Article Categories

Heaven and Hell

  1. Hell
    1. Hell as outer darkness
    2. Hell in spirit prison
    3. Hell as the Telestial and Terrestial kingdoms
      1. No progression between kingdoms
      2. Tempted to commit suicide
    4. Hell as lower subdegrees of the Celestial kingdom
  2. Heaven
    1. Celestial Kingdom
      1. Three subdegrees?
    2. Terrestial Kingdom
    3. Telestial Kingdom
      1. Heaven after self-atonement
  3. Issues to consider
    1. The Bible’s dichotomous view of heaven and hell
    2. The Book of Mormon’s dichotomous view of heaven and hell
    3. D&C 19
    4. Regret in heaven
    5. Degrees of punishment and reward
    6. Many mansions
    7. One king, one kingdom
    8. Deification

Mormonism teaches that a person is destined for one of six places depending on what he has done or what he has believed. These are: outer darkness (for Satan, his demons, and extremely wicked people) or one of three “kingdoms” known as the telestial, terrestrial or celestial kingdoms. Within the celestial kingdom are traditionally thought to be three levels[fn]LDS apologist Kevin Barney has successfully shown this traditional Mormon belief to be an inaccurate reading of the original texts in question. See his post on[/fn], the highest being called “The Church of the Firstborn.” It is here, and only here, that Mormon males hope to achieve Godhood and rule over their own worlds throughout eternity.

Mormonism’s teaching on heaven was borne out of the universalistic leanings of Joseph Smith. The brand of universalism that Mormonism promotes today might be called a “quasi-universalism”, since not all people go to heaven. Only few people on earth will end up in what is called “outer darkness”, the concept in Mormonism that most closely resembles the biblical doctrine of hell.

Mormonism teaches that almost every person who lived on earth will end up in one of three heavenly kingdoms: the Celestial, the Terrestial, or the Telestial. All three kingdoms are described by Mormon literature with positive, glowing language. D&C 76:89 described the bottom Telestial kingdom as that which “surpasses all understanding”.

Tempted to commit suicide

Eldred G. Smith, considered the “Patriarch to the Church”, affirmed a belief that is still popular today among Mormons1:

“I cannot for a minute conceive the telestial being hell, either, because it is considered a heaven, a glory. The Prophet Joseph Smith told us that if we could get one little glimpse into the telestial glory even, the glory is so great that we would be tempted to commit suicide to get there.” (March 10, 1964, BYU Speeches of the Year, 1964, p. 4)

But in addition to alleviating universalistic concerns, the Mormon doctrine of the afterlife also functions to motivate its members to fulfill the requirements of “worthiness” in this life. In the Telestial kingdom one is unable to enjoy fellowship with Jesus Christ or the Father. In the Terrestial kingdom Jesus visits but does not permanently reside. In either of these one is unable to enjoy family like others are in the Celestial kingdom.

LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith explained:

“The Lord will judge each individual case and will assign transgressor to that degree to which each is entitled according to his works. If a man only merits a place in the telestial, that will be his reward; if it should be the terrestrial, then he shall be admitted to that kingdom. In order to enter the celestial a man must be true and faithful to the end, observing all things which the Lord has commanded, otherwise he shall be assigned to some other kingdom, or to outer darkness if his sins so merit” (Doctrines of Salvation 3:310).

Hell in Mormonism?

Is there a concept of hell in Mormonism? Yes and no. LDS Apostle John Widtsoe insisted there was no hell when he said,

“In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is no hell. All will find a measure of salvation; all must pay for any infringement of the law; but the payment will be as the Lord may decide” (Joseph Smith, Seeker After Truth, p. 178).

However, 10th LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “The Church does teach that there is a place called hell. Of course we do not believe that all those who do not receive the gospel will eventually be cast into hell” (Answers to Gospel Questions 2:210).

The confusion lies in how the LDS Church defines hell. Widtsoe qualified his remark by saying, “The gospel of Jesus Christ has no hell in the old proverbial sense.” Smith clarified his comment by adding, “We do not believe that hell is a place where the wicked are being burned forever.”

Outer darkness as hell

Currently hell in spirit prison is a of holding tank for the souls of the wicked. Here they remain until the end of the millennium when they will be resurrected and judged. Those with crimes not including murder or apostasy will be allowed entrance into the telestial kingdom, which is the lowest of the kingdoms of glory. Those who failed to prove themselves worthy of a telestial reward will return again to outer darkness, this time for eternity.

Wrote LDS Apostle George Q. Cannon:

“Those who are unfaithful, those who will listen to Satan, who will lend a willing ear to his blandishments and to his allurements, when they go from this state of existence, they go into a condition where they are subject to his power. They will dwell in darkness, and according to their sins their punishment will be. Some will be consigned to ‘outer darkness,’ where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth; and they will remain in that condition until they will be visited by some servant of God to unlock the prison doors to them and to preach to them again the Gospel of salvation, through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ…They will remain in that condition, according to the enormity of their offenses, until punishment will be meted out to them sufficiently to bring them to a condition that they will receive the Gospel of salvation. That Gospel which is taught to us will be taught to them, and they will have an opportunity of obeying it in their damned condition and through repentance will receive salvation” (Gospel Truth 1:78-79).

On this same subject Bruce McConkie explained:

“When the wicked depart this life, they are ‘cast out into outer darkness,’ into hell, where ‘they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord,’ where they are spiritually dead. (Alma 40:13-14.) They remain spiritually dead in hell until the day of their resurrection (D. & C. 76:103-112), until ‘death and hell’ deliver up the dead which are in them, so that they may be judged according to their works” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 757).

As mentioned earlier, for many, the reprieve from outer darkness will be short lived. Following the judgment, those who come from outer darkness and were deemed not worthy enough for entrance into the telestial kingdom will be returned. McConkie taught:The great majority of those who have suffered in hell will pass into the telestial kingdom; the balance, cursed as sons of perdition, will be consigned to partake of endless wo with the devil and his angels” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 350).

While many Mormons do not like the concept of an eternal punishment that includes “hellfire,” it is apparent that outer darkness is a place that is anything but pleasant. According to Joseph Fielding Smith:

“The extent of this punishment none will ever know except those who partake of it. That it is the most severe punishment that can be meted out to man is apparent. Outer darkness is something which cannot be described, except that we know that it is to be placed beyond the benign and comforting influence of the Spirit of God-banished entirely from his presence” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:220).

Many Mormons with whom we have spoken object to an eternal hell on the basis that it would seem cruel for God to punish His own children in such a manner. This objection is inconsistent since Mormonism teaches that Lucifer’s demon forces, which are clearly destined for “outer darkness,” make up one-third of God’s “children” (Bruce R. McConkie,Mormon Doctrine, p. 195). While Christianity affirms that many people who were created by God will perish in hell, Mormonism also espouses this idea by admitting that at least one-third of God’s children will belong to this state. Mormons may criticize the biblical teaching that many will perish in hell, but to do so is really hypocritical when LDS doctrine condemns a minimum of one-third of God’s spirit children to outer darkness. This could easily amount to billions of God’s so-called “offspring.” This should be especially disconcerting to the Mormon since these condemned demons are really his fallen brothers and sisters.

Hell as the Telestial and Terrestial kingdoms

Mormon leaders have used terrifying language when speaking of the torment which comes with regret in the bottom two kingdoms of heaven. Apostle and popular church educator John Widtsoe wrote:

“Now, it may be contended that a judgment, with some degree of salvation for all, encourages the sinner to pursue his dark ways. Not so. However generous the judgment, it is measured by our works. Our punishment will be the heavy regret that we might have received a greater reward, a higher kingdom, had our lives conformed more nearly to truth. Such remorse may yield keener pain than physical torture.” (Understandable Religion, p. 89)

While Widtsoe is careful not to call a heavenly kingdom “hell”, he is nonetheless certain that there will be a keen regret for lost opportunities:

“Humanity will be grouped according to their works in three main divisions: Celestial (like the sun), Telestial (like the moon), Terrestrial (like the earth). Within each group there will be many gradations and divisions, until from the lowest to the highest in all groups there will be a series of gradually ascending glories. There can be no talk of a hell, except for the few ‘sons of Perdition,’ but undoubtedly the regret for lost opportunities will be keen among those in the lower degrees of glory.” (Program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p. 226)

Joseph Fielding Smith, on the other hand, considers the tormenting regret experienced in the bottom two heavenly kingdoms and concludes “in that sense it will be hell”:

“This earth will become a celestial kingdom when it is sanctified. Those who enter the terrestrial kingdom will have to go to some other sphere which will be prepared for them. Those who enter the telestial kingdom, likewise will have to go to some earth which is prepared for them, and there will be another place which is hell where the devil and those who are punished to go with him will dwell. Of course, those who enter the telestial kingdom, and those who enter the terrestrial kingdom will have the eternal punishment which will come to them in knowing that they might, if they had kept the commandments of the Lord, have returned to his presence as his sons and his daughters. This will be a torment to them, and in that sense it will be hell.” (Answers to Gospel Questions, v. 2, p. 210)

This line of thinking is interesting in light of Joseph Smith’s following teaching:

“A man is his own tormenter and his own condemner. Hence the saying, They shall go into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. The torment of disappointment in the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone” (TPJS, p. 357)

The entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism on “Damnation” essentially explains that the bottom two kingdoms of heaven are kingdoms of damnation:

“Just as there are varying degrees and types of salvation, coupled with eternal progression in some areas (D&C 76:96-98; 131:1-4), so are there varying degrees and types of damnation. In LDS doctrine, to be damned means to be stopped, blocked, or limited in one’s progress. Individuals are damned whenever they are prevented from reaching their full potential as children of God. Damnation is falling short of what one might have enjoyed if one had received and been faithful to the whole law of the gospel. In this sense, all who do not achieve the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom are damned, even though they are saved in some degree of glory.”

No progression between kingdoms

Once the individual is assigned to a particular “glory,” he is there permanently. There are no progression between kingdoms. Spencer W. Kimball taught:

“No progression between kingdoms. After a person has been assigned to his place in the kingdom, either in the telestial, the terrestrial, or the celestial, or to his exaltation, he will never advance from his assigned glory to another glory. That is eternal! That is why we must make our decisions early in life and why it is imperative that such decisions be right” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 50).

Hell as lower subdegrees of the Celestial kingdom

“Eternal damnation is the opposite of eternal life, and all those who do not gain eternal life, or exaltation in the highest heaven within the celestial kingdom, are partakers of eternal damnation. Their eternal condemnation is to have limitations imposed upon them so that they cannot progress to the state of godhood and gain a fullness of all things” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p.234)

The Bible on hell

The Bible teaches that there is only one of two possible destinations awaiting mankind after death: eternal punishment or eternal life. To those who have been justified by faith and received the righteousness of Christ applied to their account, there awaits a glorious eternity in heaven. To the rest who willfully reject God’s gift of salvation or who attempt to appease God’s demand for perfection by some other way than trusting in the righteousness of Christ, there awaits the terrors of hell.

Some would like to think that a loving Christ would never punish the unbeliever in such a manner. Such a conclusion fails to take into account that it was Christ Himself who made such a pronouncement! To assume otherwise is to accuse Jesus of a terrible deception amounting to nothing more than a cruel and dishonest scare tactic. The fact is, Jesus referred to hell on numerous occasions throughout the Gospels. For instance, Matthew 10:28 says,

“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Jesus said in Matthew 18:9 that “if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast [it] from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.” (Also see Mark 9:43.)

In addition, Jesus warned his followers in Luke 12:5 to “fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell.”

In all of the aforementioned passages, the word used to describe hell is “Gehenna.” In using this word, Jesus colorfully illustrates the everlasting burnings of post-resurrection hell by comparing it to the perpetual fires in the valley of Hinnom just south of Jerusalem. The city garbage dump that burned continually, existed in this valley. Hence His phrase, “The fire that shall never be quenched.” Such a horrible conclusion also lies in store for those who prided themselves in their false religions.

Many souls will reside in hell that placed their membership in a certain religious organization or belief system as more important than the truth of God’s Word, the Bible. How terrible it will be to see that Christ does not grant eternal happiness to those who trusted in false prophets and false messiahs, but rather, those who trusted in a personal Christ who declared in John 14:6 that He alone was “the way, the truth and the life.” Not just any Christ will do. Those who trust in an imagined “savior” whose attributes do not concur with those of the Jesus of the Bible will be sorely disappointed. Our Lord Himself declared in Matthew 7:22-23:

“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

Those who decide to address God without Christ as their advocate will stand at the Great White Throne of Judgment (Revelation 20:11ff.) and face the most righteous judicial system imaginable. Here, no lawyer with beguiling speech will be able to manipulate a sin-stained jury into rendering a verdict of innocent. Here, all those who decided to “go it alone” must stand before Christ Himself and give an account of their actions. To stand before an omniscient Christ who knows the thoughts of every single person will be both an awesome and terrible experience.

A person’s sin-stained works, however precious they may have been to the one who pridefully clutched to them in mortality, will soon find them to be the heaviest millstone. All whose names are not found written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be cast into the Lake of Fire. Without Christ as their advocate, all hope will be gone forever. As Christian evangelist Jonathan Edwards once preached:

“There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long for ever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all. You will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that it is but a point to what remains. So that your punishment will indeed be infinite” (Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, pp. 28, 29).

How such persons will react throughout eternity is unknown. Some think those destined to an eternity in hell will forever curse God as they did during their mortal lifetime. Others feel their eternity will be marked with guilt and remorse. Whatever the scenario, the torment in this place is described as everlasting.

No doubt the idea of eternal punishment is an unpleasant topic many would rather not talk about. However, it would irresponsible to ignore the many passages of Scripture that testify to such an event since much of what we know on this subject is attributed to Jesus Himself! The all-holy God of the Bible takes righteousness very seriously, and He will not allow any unrighteous thing to enter His presence. Because of our sin nature, we will never be able to satisfactorily cleanse ourselves from our sinful ways. Fortunately, our gracious God provided our escape from hell through the person of Jesus Christ. When we come to faith in Him, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer who is then made clean. Never again will he have to worry about where he will spend eternity since at that point the believer passes from death to life (Romans 5:21). If you are hoping to make yourself “good enough” for heaven, we invite you to abandon this vain effort and place your total trust in the completed work of Christ. Only then will your sin-debt be satisfied.

D&C 19

To appease the universalist leanings of Martin Harris, Joseph Smith gave a revelation that reoriented the language of the New Testament describing hell. Whereas the Bible describes hell as “eternal” (Matthew 25:46), “everlasting” (Daniel 12:2), and “forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10), Joseph Smith essentially taught in D&C 19 that the punishment was only described as “endless” and “eternal” because God is endless and eternal, not because the punishment itself has no end. The revelation explains,

“Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment. Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory… For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—Eternal punishment is God’s punishment. Endless punishment is God’s punishment.” (6-7,10-12)

Like most Mormons today, George Q. Cannon understood this revelation to teach that “eternal punishment” is not endless:

“Joseph Smith taught a different doctrine even before the Church was organized. He taught the doctrine, in a revelation given to Martin Harris—it had to be given with great care, because it was entirely different to what was generally believed—that ‘eternal punishment is God’s punishment;’ but it does not follow that those who come under God’s punishment are to be punished throughout the endless ages of eternity.” (Journal of Discourses, v. 24, p. 374)

That earlier scriptures had described damnation as “eternal” is acknowledged verse 7, but dismissed as an “express” way of working “upon the hearts of the children of men”. Mormon blogger Geoff Johnston writes,

“D&C 19:4-12 is a humdinger of a scriptural passage. In it the Lord confirms what people had surely been suspecting about various doctrines for thousands of years: “He has to be kidding about that doctrine, right?” Apparently the answer to their question in at least one case was ‘yup’ The specific misleading doctrine that the Lord tells us he had allowed people to buy into until section 19 was given in 1830 is the doctrine that ‘endless torment’ and ‘eternal damnation’ are actually endless and eternal in duration. Rather, the Lord admits, such punishments usually do have an end. God just allowed his people to believe otherwise because having people believe such punishments last forever was a useful form of motivation.”[fn]Geoff Johnston, “Divinely approved false doctrines?” Accessed 2/10/2010.[/fn]

Mormons are less inclined to see this as a problem than Christians, since Mormonism has traditionally promoted itself as necessary expansion on and correction of ancient scripture.

But there are other problems with the passage. When considered together with the Biblical data on hell and with later developments of Mormon theology, the passage is shown to be entirely unnecessary. Mormonism later developed a theology of a temporary hell in spirit prison (the intermediate state between death and final judgment) and of a post-resurrection outer darkness of endless duration for the worst of the worst. The Bible also describes a different hell for the intermediate state and for post-resurrection punishment. The pre-resurrection hell is often described using the term Hades (and sometimes Tartaros), but is never described as eternal, everlasting, or “forever and ever”. Those in it await the final judgment as described in Revelation 20.[fn]Revelation 20:13-15 teaches that, after the resurrection, those negatively judged out of Hades are thrown along with Hades and Death into the lake of fire, which was described earlier in verse 10 as where people are tormented “day and night forever and ever”. Fire and burning sulfur are the content of the metaphor of Gehenna used (derived from the Valley of Hinnom).[/fn] The post-resurrection hell, often described as Gehenna and the “lake of fire,” is the only hell described as eternal.

It seems the only way one could correlate Mormonism with this Biblical distinction is to parallel the pre-resurrection hell of the New Testament (Hades/Tartaros) with hell in Mormonism’s intermediate spirit prison, and the post-resurrection hell of the New Testament (Gehenna) with Mormonism’s outer darkness. Given that Mormonism clearly teaches the only post-resurrection hell is outer darkness, and that outer darkness is endless in duration, there was no need to reorient the language of “eternal punishment” to supposedly refer to the pre-resurrection temporary hell of spirit prison.

If a Mormon attempts to take the Bible seriously along with Mormonism, he or she is put between a rock and a hard place. Either the post-resurrection hell (Gehenna) is endless in duration or it is not. If it is, then D&C 19 is wrong both in describing the theology of the New Testament and in describing the theology of modern Mormonism. If post-resurrection hell is not eternal, then both the New Testament and modern Mormonism are in error. Put another way, if the Bible is right in describing the post-resurrection hell as eternal, then D&C 19 is wrong in trying to redefine such descriptions. But if D&C 19 is correct in refuting the Testaments descriptions of post-resurrection hell, then traditional and modern Mormonism is wrong in teaching that the only post-resurrection hell, outer darkness, is endless in duration.

Furthermore, if only very few people of those who come to earth to experience mortality—those who commit the unpardonable sin—will actually go to Gehenna (the only explicit post-resurrection hell; paralleled with “outer darkness” in Mormonism), why does Jesus so widely warn about the threat of Gehenna for those who do not fight lust and anger, and for those who lead children astray (i.e. Matthew 5:22,29-30)? Why does he so widely warn people to “fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (Matthew 10:28). Why does he denounce the general groups of the scribes and Pharisees, “How will you escape being condemned to Gehenna?” (Matthew 23:33) Modern Mormonism, contra Jesus, seems to teach that nearly all the scribes and Pharisees will end up in a heavenly kingdom, not Gehenna.

The most reasonable conclusion is that Joseph Smith got it wrong in D&C 19. The hell the Bible describes as “eternal”, “everlasting”, and “forever and ever” really is endless in duration (just like “eternal” life is endless in duration; cf. Matthew 25:46). Neither the early universalism (or annihilationism?) of D&C 19 and Martin Harris nor the developed quasi-universalism of later Mormonism fit with the Biblical data.

Regret in heaven?

Pastor John Piper writes in Life As a Vapor, p. 19-21:

I can’t keep eternity out of my mind. Life is short and eternity is long. Very long. It is a long time to regret a wasted life.

Which raises the question: Is there regret in heaven? Can regret be part of the ever-increasing, unspeakable joy of the age to come, purchased by Jesus Christ (Romans 8:32)? My answer is yes. I am aware of promises like Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” But I don’t think this rules out tears of joy, and it may not rule out regretful joy.

Why do I think this? I do not see how we will be able to worship Christ and sing the song of the Lamb without a clear memory of the glorious, saving work of Jesus Christ and all that it involved. According to Revelation 5:9, the saints will sing “a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’” But ransomed from what? Will we have forgotten? This song and this memory will make no sense without the memory of sin. And the memory of sin will be hypocritical without the confession that it was our sin that Jesus died for.

It is inconceivable to me that we will remember our sin for what it really was, and the suffering of Christ for what it really was, and not feel regretful joy. The intensity of our joy in grace will be fed by the remembrance of our unworthiness. “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). But this does not mean we should sin so “that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1). The holiest will be the happiest. But it does mean that regret will not ruin heaven. There will be kinds of joys, and complexities of happiness, and combinations of emotions in heaven of which we have never dreamed.

But all this leaves me trembling that I not throw away the one short life that I will look back on for all eternity. Just think of it. You have one life. One very short life. Then an eternity to remember. Does not the suffering in this world seem inexplicable to you? Is not this great, global (and intensely personal) suffering a call to magnify the mercy of Christ by how we respond? Is not suffering a seamless fabric, stretching into eternity for unbelievers? And therefore, are not Christians the only people who can respond with helpful relief to the totality of misery? Unbelievers may relieve some suffering in this vapor’s breath of life on earth. But beyond that they are no help at all.

Shall we not then live our lives—and prepare for heaven—by strategizing in all our vocations, and with all our talents and all our money, to relieve suffering (now and forever) for the glory of Jesus? The twentieth century was the bloodiest and cruelest of all centuries. Man is not getting better. But God will hold us accountable in the age to come not for what others have done. He will call us to account for what blood-bought hope freed us to do for others in the name of Christ. We will give joyful and tearful thanks in that day for the grace that covered our sin and the grace that caused our love.

Rather than the punitive pains of the hellish heavens of Mormonism, God’s word, the Bible, promises a rock-solid future for Christians free of any eternal punishment and full of ever-increasing joy. Any memory of past sins or failures brought to mind in heaven will not be a “torment” or an “eternal punishment”, but rather an occasion for remembering the God who freely forgave our sins, who sent his only begotten son to pay the penalty for our transgressions. This will cause super-abounding joy and tearful thanks and overflowing worship to the God who saved us.

Heaven after self-atonement?

Mormonism has, on the other hand, taught that those in the Telestial kingdom will have paid for their own sins in spirit prison, a temporary hell which serves as a place of purging before entrance into heaven (cf. D&C 138: 58-59). Orson F. Whitney preached:

“But those who reject the Gospel altogether and are besotted and crimestained—what of them? It is written that they will be thrust down to hell; even the murderer, the liar, the sorcerer, and the whoremonger. They will, in short, be damned. But they will only be damned to the extent justified by their sins. Even for them there is hope, after they have ‘paid the uttermost farthing.’ They will be punished, as all men must be, for neglect of duty, for transgression of the laws of God; but after they have been punished sufficiently, they will be brought forth and saved in a glory of which the stars in heaven are typical.” (“The Three Great Teachers”, May 8, 1898; Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses 1886-1898, v. 5)

Chapter 41 of the 2009 Gospel Principles manual quotes D&C 19 and concurs the same:

“Also in the spirit prison are those who rejected the gospel after it was preached to them on earth or in the spirit prison. These spirits suffer in a condition known as hell. They have removed themselves from the mercy of Jesus Christ, who said, ‘Behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit’ (D&C 19:16-18). After suffering in full for their sins, they will be allowed, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, to inherit the lowest degree of glory, which is the telestial kingdom” (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 244).

Mormonism teaches that a person is destined for one of six places depending on what he has done or what he has believed. These are: outer darkness (for Satan, his demons, and extremely wicked people) or one of three “kingdoms” known as the telestial, terrestrial or celestial kingdoms. Within the celestial kingdom are traditionally thought to be three levels[fn]LDS apologist Kevin Barney has successfully shown this traditional Mormon belief to be an inaccurate reading of the original texts in question. See his post on[/fn], the highest being called “The Church of the Firstborn.” It is here, and only here, that Mormon males hope to achieve Godhood and rule over their own worlds throughout eternity.

Mormonism’s teaching on heaven was borne out of the universalistic leanings of Joseph Smith. The brand of universalism that Mormonism promotes today might be called a “quasi-universalism”, since not all people go to heaven. Only few people on earth will end up in what is called “outer darkness”, the concept in Mormonism that most closely resembles the biblical doctrine of hell.

Mormonism teaches that almost every person who lived on earth will end up in one of three heavenly kingdoms: the Celestial, the Terrestial, or the Telestial. All three kingdoms are described by Mormon literature with positive, glowing language. D&C 76:89 described the bottom Telestial kingdom as that which “surpasses all understanding.”

Are there Many “Mansions” Where God the Father and Jesus Christ Do Not Reside?

Mormons often appeal to the phrase “many mansions in my Father’s house” in John 14:2 as proof that there will be three kingdoms in heaven. Since Mormon theology holds that neither the Father nor Jesus Christ will abide in or even visit the Telestial kingdom, and that only Jesus will visit the Terrestial kingdom, the passage is effectively used to teach that not all “mansions” in the Father’s house will be in the presence of the Father or the Son. Apostle Stephen L. Richards said,

“Through a latter-day revelation came the information that there are stations and gradations of position in the future life as in this life, and naturally there are places of preference. These various stations are referred to in the revelation as being kingdoms or degrees of glory, and their exposition serves to amplify and clarify the Savior’s reference to the ‘many mansions’ in his Father’s house, and other scriptural passages. By exaltation is meant the attainment of the highest station, the most preferential position in the future world of varying kingdoms and glories. The highest plane or kingdom is called celestial, and it is in the celestial kingdom that the highest aspirations of the Christian are realized.” (Conference Report, April 1945, First Day—Morning Meeting, p. 30)

Speaking of John 14:2, William J. Critchlow, Jr., said,

“The Prophet Joseph Smith called them ‘kingdoms.’ In which of these kingdoms or subdivisions thereof did he go to prepare a place for you? Describe your mansion, if you can.”

A closer look at the passage shows that it has been tragically turned upsidedown:

“‘Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms [KJV: mansions]. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.'” (John 14:1-7, English Standard Version)

Look again at what Jesus said. If he prepares a place (or a “mansion” or a “room”) for you, he will “come again and will take you to [himself], that where [he is] you may be also.” Instead of intending to frighten his disciples with the prospect of abiding in a place where Jesus never even visits, Jesus encourages them with an assurance of a future with him.

For Every Kingdom There is a King

The Bible only speaks of one heavenly kingdom and one heavenly King, Jesus Christ, to whom the Father has given all authority and power and judgment.
As a final note, I have some questions: Could someone ever be happy in heaven without God the Father and Jesus? Why does Mormonism even attempt to paint a positive picture of the bottom two kingdoms of heaven if their permanent presence cannot be enjoyed? How does this not reflect poorly upon Mormonism’s view of God?
See Also

Sperry Symposium: Joseph Smith’s family religion

Committing Suicide to Get to the Telestial Kingdom?, by Blaire Hodges (Mormon blog post)

BYU professor discusses the doctrine of hell (Mormon Times)


  1. On this common belief Robert Millet and Kent P. Jackson write,

“Regarding ‘surpasses all understanding’: A rather common notion in connection with this verse is that Joseph Smith had taught that if we knew what the telestial kingdom was like, we would commit suicide to get there. What the Prophet said was not in reference to the telestial kingdom, but to life ‘behind the veil,’ which may mean a number of things.The Prophet’s statement (Charles Walker quoting Wilford Woodruff quoting Joseph Smith) is as follows:

“Br. Woodruff spoke. . . . He refered to a saying of Joseph Smith which he heard him utter (like this) That if the People knew what was behind the vail, they would try by every means to commit suicide that they might get there, but the Lord in his wisdom had implanted the fear of death in every person that they might cling to life and thus accomplish the designs of their creator. (Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, ed. by A. Karl Larson and Katherine M. Larson [Logan, Ut.: Utah State University Press, 1980], vol. 1, pp. 465-66.)” (Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 1: The Doctrine and Covenants, pp. 305-8)

Truman G. Madsen writes on the belief as well:

“Many of us have heard the statement made—and ascribed to either Joseph Smith or Brigham Young—to the effect that if a person could see the glory of the telestial kingdom he would commit suicide to get there. If only we could get the fundamental doctrines across to Church members as rapidly as we get across rumors, everyone would be saved. Am I saying that’s a rumor? Well, I am saying this, that over a period of many years I have combed everything Joseph Smith said and wrote, and I can’t find it. Hugh Nibley has done the same with Brigham Young’s words, and he can’t find it. It is hard to prove a negative, of course. What I can say is that we have found a statement from Joseph via Wilford Woodruff that says something else that is close, and I suspect it is the origin of the alleged statement (see Diary of Charles C. Walker, August 1837, in Church Historical Department). Elder Woodruff said the Prophet taught this, roughly: that if we could see what is beyond the veil we couldn’t stand to stay here in mortality for five minutes. And I suggest from the context that he was not talking about the telestial kingdom. He was talking about what it was like to be in the presence of God and the family.” (The Radiant Life, p. 91)



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